New Studio - Natural Lighting ?

Discussion in 'Lighting Equipment' started by WAngell, Apr 24, 2017.

  1. I am building a new studio at home. The building will be 28x32 or maybe 28x38 with a garage on the first floor and studio above with a vaulted ceiling. Mostly Portrait/Fashion and woodworking shoots.

    I'll have a small office & storage room somewhere with sliding glass doors to help control woodworking dust.

    I've been debating various lighting bits. I can have windows along any wall (though one will have the office & storage) and I'll likely do a few different sizes for different looks. Haven't yet decided on the axis for the roof peak but I'm thinking east-west and then some north facing clearstory windows along it.

    There's a part of me that would love a near full wall of windows on the west (likely gable) end but not sure if I'd be able to adequately control that when I need to. I assume I could do it with blackout blinds but could get really expensive?

    Any thoughts or ideas, lighting or otherwise, are greatly appreciated.
  2. AJG


    Where I live (in upstate NY) I would avoid depending on natural light for a professional studio, so as not to be weather dependent. Unless you need to shoot video, studio flash units with their choice of modifiers are the most versatile way to go. For portrait and fashion work it is great to be able to work hand held and not worry about motion blur from moving subjects, and continuous lighting won't do always that for you at low ISO settings.
    fotografz likes this.
  3. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Administrator Staff Member

    Check out Solartube. I put one in a bathroom, and was reaching in to "switch off the light" for a year. Very natural pleasant light. They now have one with a shutter so you can cut off the light. Put some in my Mother's house, and the results were nothing short of amazing.
  4. Thanks. I use to shoot a lot with strobes (Norman) and then went on a bit of an anti-artificial kick for a few decades and just recently started using strobes again (currently Buff for powered and Phottix for portable). I still prefer natural but use strobes when necessary either completely or augment. I'm still not happy with my skills when augmenting (level, location, and color) but slowly getting there. If I can put someone by a window and bounce window light on to them to balance then I'm usually much happier than if I need to use strobes and struggle with getting them to look natural.

    How even/diffuse is the light from the Solartubes?
  5. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Administrator Staff Member

    WA -- I have no technical answer, but to me, it resembles the "north light" in old time purpose built art / photography studios.
  6. There seem to be two schools of thought on studio design/decoration. One is to paint everything white and try to fill the studio with light, and the other is to paint everything black for total control over the light.

    Personally, I'm in the total control camp. Building up the light and reflections from scratch. OTOH you need a lot of reflectors and soft sources to get that rounded window-light look.

    IMO, pros of the no-window black studio are that moody shots are very easy to get. High key is possible but not quite so easy.

    The windowed white studio gets you a nice soft look, but one that varies with the weather. It makes moody lighting near impossible unless you surround the subject with black absorbers.

    Your choice really. Flexibility and weather independence or light, airy and a bit restrictive.

    Two white walls and two black walls? That might work. Best of both worlds or a kludge compromise? I'm really not sure.
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2017
  7. I believe in the pre-film era they built studios like green houses and had thin white curtains as difusers and black ones to limit the incoming light. - The foil to make garden ponds is black and rather inexpensive but a bit heavy.

    I'd fear the windows & galss roof during summer; AC is expensive. - I'd also dislike to depend on natural light since I am rather nocturnal.
  8. Sue Bryce, window light photographer and Felix Kunze, strobe guy, did a challenge on Creative live to see if he could produce the look she liked from window light using strobes. He did and it was indistinguishable. Window light characteristics of direction, diffusion, intensity and color can all be created with strobe and at any time of day and any weather that are limitations on ambient. Also, if you live in a place with clouds, window light can change constantly while strobes only change when you want them to. From a cost analysis since you are new construction, how much extra will windows and black out shades cost
    compared to solid exterior wall. Probably enough to buy strobes and modifiers. I have both, but black out my windows most of the time.
  9. Go with as much natural light as possible, and paint everything white. You can always reduce natural light but can't increase it. Doesn't matter where you live. On cloudy winter days my north facing windows are my favorite places to be.

    A full wall of large north facing windows would be good if you can afford it.

    To attenuate the light, think of draperies or backgrounds. Provide a feature above your full wall of north windows to hang a heavy drape. You can then slide the drape to adjust the lighting, from wide open to "fully stopped down". ;)

    To attenuate reflections from white studio walls, backgrounds or drapes can also be employed.

    In summary, I would maximize the collection and distribution of natural light, and add features to the studio to manage the light.
  10. Thanks all. Decisions on this project are driving me nuts. I've spent a lot of time the past few weeks reading, looking at photos, and playing with ideas. Current plan:

    Paint is cheap, well relatively anyway. Theatre's I worked in would get several coats of paint on the stage floors and walls every season for different productions. So I can always paint one wall or every surface black or 18% or whatever. I think I'm going to start with all white walls and outdoor screen paint on the ceiling.

    Roofline will run east<>west with north facing clearstory windows (this also provides a good south facing roof for solar). Office/Storage room will be on the east end. Still debating how much window on the south and west sides. I will have electric blackout blinds on the clearstory windows (not as expensive as I'd feared).

    Drapes are a good idea. I'd like to figure out something for a rigging system to make hanging stuff (drapes, foamcore, lights, gargantuan softboxes) easier. With a gabled ceiling I don't think a rail system would work so well nor do I relish the expense (and I'm already over budget). I can always do that later.

    Any other thoughts, ideas, or suggestions welcome.

    Wilmarco Imaging likes this.
  11. For hanging drapes, look at the "hospital style" gear - extruded aluminum track, available in straight or curved sections that you hook together. The rail is suspended by clamps on the outside, the drapes hang from little "trollies" riding inside of the track.

    You can run multiple tracks if you want, or perhaps a single long track with a couple different drapes on it. Even muslin backgrounds.
  12. I think I had mentioned before that you should look at Unistrut. A couple sections of slotted channel mounted overhead gives you the ability to mount all sorts of things (using the Unistrut system). It's cheaper than you might expect.
  13. Whatever windows you have on the south and west walls, suggest that you also have the capability to black them out. South and west windows will get sun blazing through them on sunny days. Not my favorite type of photography lighting.
  14. The building is finally almost complete so I can begin working on my space which is the second floor. Photo is from the camera location for a longer shot. There will be exterior french doors between the studio/shop space and the office so it should seal off pretty well for dust. The row of high windows to the left is a north facing wall. I don't know that I'll get much useable natural light but we'll see. The side walls are 6' 8" and the bottom of the center beam is 15' 2" so I've got some height to work with.

    For rigging I'm planning to do 4 16' lengths of unistrut (3' either side of center and 6' either side of center) though I'm open to suggestions. I am debating if I can mount it against the angled ceiling or if I should put some angled backers in so that the strut is level. I'm guessing it'd be worth it to do the latter but it may be a bit of a pain.

    BTW, the ridge beam is a 42' x 28" steel i-beam that required 2 cranes to lift in to place. That's what was needed to eliminate a couple of columns that would have been needed otherwise.


    Last edited: Nov 10, 2020
    William Michael likes this.
  15. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Administrator Staff Member

    Looks wonderful! Congrats! I'd be envious if I was still doing the kind of thing you are.
  16. Wow, consider yourself lucky because most of us don't have that flexibility. I remember back in the day, whenever I looked for an apartment, a BIG window facing North and a walk-in closet for my darkroom were essential. A BIG window facing North, or South would give you a stream of even natural light pretty much during the entire day. Right now I have a pretty big window which faces West. That means that around 3:00 pm or so, the light changes drastically. If I was in your situation, I might try to build a moon-roof. Many famous old-time portrait painters (and photographers) used them. The problem with moon-roofs as well as big windows is that sometimes you need to block the light entirely to prevent ambient light from influencing your shot. You can easily find thick black-out curtains but you may still need black out material(and Velcro) to fully block out the light. Another thing to consider is that big windows also affect room temperature, hot in the summer cold in the winter months.
  17. You're leaving it painted all white?!

    Not the best for controlled lighting, unless you also have a load of black screens stowed away somewhere.
  18. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Administrator Staff Member

    Looks to me as if like they just finished the sheetrock - so far, unpainted.
  19. Initially I am going all neutral white (except the office/storage/editing which will be Munsell N6 grey). I'm also thinking about doing the mezzanine grey (not Munsell $$$ though).

    I really debated white vs grey and I've worked in both (and black which I don't like to work in for very long). For now I'd rather have a lot of light and block out what I don't want. White (especially the ceiling) also works better for building sets and other similar chores. I will have blackout shades on the windows and may do some black velour curtains for the walls to give me some control versatility. I could also do a black cyc of some sort. I'll likely get some large sheets of black foam core or similar that I can fly overhead if needed.

    Fortunately paint isn't extremely expensive (on paper - when it comes to actually shelling out that's a different story) so I may well paint the whole place or some surfaces grey in a year or two. We'll see.
  20. A couple of other bits... Heat is all in-floor radiant. 3 zones are; Office, Restroom+Foyer, Space. The office and restroom will likely stay around 70°f in winter and the space maybe 50°f. It could take a day to warm the space up so that will require some planning. AC is a multi-head mini-split with 2 zones; Office & Space. There is also a duct + inline blower between the peak of the mezzanine and the foyer. The thinking is that this can help to balance temps. We'll see.

    There is also a 5200 CFM variable speed exhaust fan (you can see it in the mezzanine). This is for 3 purposes; 1) Create a breeze w/ open windows for natural cooling (fresh air and less $'s than mini-split), 2) help to clear dust out from woodworking & set construction and 3) Create a light breeze for shots that need it. The breeze for shots bit may not work very well but we'll see.

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